I was reading this morning from 1 Peter 2 about Christians as newborn babies craving spiritual milk that helps them grow up. That started me thinking about how we as Christians are fed – and that’s just the point, the impression I have is that’s most Christians in our churches expect someone else to feed them. It’s as if they have been drinking mothers milk ever since they were born and have never progressed to solid food and then to providing their own food.
The picture I had was of the church resembling a restaurant. People come to a restaurant to be fed with food that someone else (hopefully a professional cook) has created and in a setting where that food is served up on a plate be someone else. This restaurant is open once a week, every week, and also for special celebrations. The diners may come regularly but that isn’t every week, and they always expect the restaurant to be open even if they have missed a few weeks or even months.
When I read the bible I don’t see anything like this picture of the church. The picture I see is more like a bring and share supper. Everyone brings something and what everyone brings is different. Some of the food is cordon bleu cookery and other food is just edible. Some have had a tough week so they’ve only brought a little and others have had a great week and have brought plenty. Everyone gets to share in the feast and everyone helps everyone else. There may be a professional cook, but their offering is only a small part of the whole.
What would our Sunday and weekday Christian gatherings loom like if they resembled a bring and share meal more than a restaurant?
For decades, if not centuries, in the life on the Church of England our ‘Ecclesiology’ has driven and defined our ‘Missiology’! You may be reading this thinking what on earth is the vicar on about, have I been reading the dictionary for fun!
Our ‘Ecclesiology’ is our understanding of the Church, if you ask the question ‘What is the church?’ your answer is your ecclesiology. For decades, if not centuries, our understanding of the church has been of an institution that has been focussed on a weekly gathering of the faithful in a particular style of building and that gathering has been led by professional ministers
That in turn has led to our understanding of mission or our ‘Missiology’. That has focussed on a message that has said ‘come to us,’ where mission has been based on what happens in a particular building and where the professional ministers have been the focus for that mission. Over recent years that has developed but often has still focussed on attracting people to come to our building. We have learnt to do missional events but the hub and the heart of all that happens has remained what we do for an hour in a particular building on a Sunday morning.
I want to suggest that it is time that we changed and that our ‘Missiology’ shaped our ‘Eccleciology’ rather than the other way round. That the importance of reaching out with the love and life of Christ to all in our local community starts to shape how we view what the church is, how the church lives, when and where the church meets and what the church looks like.
This means that our mission cannot be restricted to the chosen few, rather that all Christians, however old or young, however experienced or inexperienced, however confident or fearful, all are involved in the mission of God. It means that our focus cannot be restricted to an hour on a Sunday morning but the mission of God effects every hour of every day, wherever we are and whatever we’re doing.
It means that the most fruitful ideas and visions for mission are going to come from you and not me! It means that the times we meet together as Christian family during the week as just as important (if not more important!) than the time on a Sunday morning. It means that there will be many who will be part of the Church community of St Pauls who never come to a Sunday service, but are just as much a part of our church community as those who come on a Sunday and aren’t involved during the week. It will mean that discipleship becomes far more important than membership or attendance at a service.
What does this mean to me you may be asking? I have three questions for you. Question one: Who would you like to become a Christian? Question two: How can you share your faith with them? Question three: How can I help you?
In September whilst on holiday in France I used to go each morning to collect our croissants for breakfast. It was about a ten minute walk each way and each day I listened to the Bible on my iPhone. This year I decided to listen to Ephesians, and over the two weeks listened to the whole book a number of times.
Various passages stood out for me. One of those was Eph 2:19-20: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
This raised in my mind the question of what is the foundation that the church is built on today?
In the time of the early church the foundation was the Apostles and Prophets. The Apostles who were missionary evangelists commissioned by God. They went and were sent to new places, new cultures and new communities. They were there with a purpose, to pioneer with the Gospel so that new people came to know the love and life of Jesus for themselves and to establish new expressions of the community of faith, which came to be called the church. They also had a role in supporting established communities of faith and challenging em to remain true to the Gospel and to continue to share the Gospel with new people. The prophets where those who spoke the living word of God into lives, hearts and minds. They didn’t so much ‘foretell’ what was to come as ‘forth tell’ God’s living word to individuals and communities. The Apostles and the Prophets worked well together (at least most of the time). The Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers then built on the foundation that had me laid by the Apostles and Prophets.
So what about the church today? My reflection is that for the past centuries the foundation of the church hasn’t been Apostolic and Prophetic but has been the foundation of the Pastors and Teachers. So much so that the title that many church leaders are called The Pastor. Pastors are gentle people who offer support and promote unity and loyalty.